Moving

Marc Benioff threatens to relocate Dreamforce regardless of claiming San Francisco is the highest A.I. metropolis

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is one of San Francisco’s biggest advocates, but claims he might have to relocate its marquee conference owing to the city’s homelessness and drug problems. Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

San Francisco is a hot-button topic for just about everyone these days, including the vocal tech industry leaders whose offices are scattered throughout the city’s sprawling downtown.

To Elon Musk, owner of X (formerly Twitter), located in the grungy Civic Center neighborhood, San Francisco is a “postapocalyptic” place. Venture capitalist Jason Calacanis has condemned the city as being run by “evil, incompetent fools and grifters who accomplish nothing except enabling rampant violence.”

The critics seemed to have won a new convert this week when Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, a longtime champion of San Francisco, threatened to move his annual Dreamforce conference to another city because of the rampant homelessness and drug use. “If this Dreamforce is impacted by the current situation with homelessness and drug use it may be the last Dreamforce,” Benioff told the San Francisco Chronicle in a story published Tuesday.

On Wednesday, however, Benioff, who was raised in San Francisco, was back to his usual self, talking up the city’s merits during Salesforce’s quarterly earnings call.

“We’re really seeing downtown San Francisco become A.I. central,” Benioff said during the conference call. He ticked off a list of hot A.I. startups based in the city, and noted that one such company (that he said he was not permitted to name) had just leased the entire building that Salesforce-owned Slack once occupied.

San Francisco, Benioff said on the call, “is becoming the number one A.I. city in the world.”

It was a jarring change of tune from Benioff’s comments hours earlier, and indicative of the ambivalent attitudes and glaring extremes on display every day in San Francisco.

Even as the city attracts a constant stream of richly funded tech startups and entrepreneurs, San Francisco remains in the midst of a dire crisis involving homelessness and a surge in lethal drug overdoses, with 473 people dying in 2023 alone. On Tuesday, a San Francisco court order preventing officials from clearing homeless encampments caught the ire of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who called it “preposterous” and “inhumane.”

A source close to the situation told Fortune that Salesforce has been “communicating” its concerns to the city and the Moscone Center, the convention center that hosts Dreamforce, and noted that Salesforce could cancel any future bookings of the Moscone at any time (though with high cancellation fees).

“We’re working hand in hand with the city, as we always do,” Benioff told the Chronicle on Tuesday. “We’ll bring a significant number of people to the city—40,000 people—and it will generate $57 million in the downtown economy. So it’s in all of our interests for it to go well, and for APEC to go well. This should be the focus of the city.”

While there haven’t been any reported Dreamforce issues tied to homelessness or drug use in recent years, the Chronicle pointed out, Benioff had once shared with the Chronicle in 2018 that some attendees had sent him emails expressing concerns about the homelessness crisis and the unsanitary condition of the streets.

This year’s Dreamforce is set to kick off in San Francisco in less than two weeks. As for the event’s location in 2024, we may have to wait until Salesforce’s next earnings call.

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